August 23, 2017 —The haunting and allusive “Marjorie Prime” is a sci-fi film set in the near future but its emotional resonance is bracingly immediate. Based on the 2014 play of the same name by Jordan Harrison, and written and directed by Michael Almereyda, it is, in the largest sense, a movie about memory.
We first meet Marjorie (Lois Smith), an 86-year old widow touched by dementia, as she speaks with Walter (Jon Hamm) in the comfort of her cozy beige beach house living room. She welcomes his presence but seems slightly uneasy. “I feel like I have to entertain,” she says to him, and it soon becomes clear that Walter is, in fact, a highly realistic hologram of her husband, who died 15 years earlier.
He has been selected to look like Walter at his best mid-40s handsomeness and was provided to Marjorie by her skeptical daughter Tess (Geena Davis), who thinks the whole idea is creepy, and her much more enthusiastic son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins), who recognizes Marjorie’s need for comforting companionship, however abstract.
Walter is a Prime, which means, as a hologram, he receives information about Marjorie from the bits of information filtered through their conversations, or from his background sessions with Jon, who attempts to fill in much of her past. The poignancy of the Marjorie-Walter interactions is that Marjorie both believes and disbelieves that this man, whose soothingness is slightly robotic, is her husband. Gestures or responses from him that don’t exactly evoke Walter are met by Marjorie with a befuddled agitation.
She is reminded by Walter of a romantic date watching “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and she sweetens the memory by asking, “What if we went to see ‘Casablanca’ instead?” And so this becomes their new reminiscence, their new reality. What transpires between them in these sessions is like a fantasia of how we alter our memories to fit our desires. After a while, Walter, in his hesitancies and proclivity to please, seems as complexly human as anybody else in the movie.
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